Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Welcome To GPress

I'm pretty sure I picked this up at the second Project A-Kon, which was held in May of 1991 at a Radisson off I-35 in Dallas. The first A-Kon was an achievement, but the real test of a convention is coming back for that second year, keeping your momentum up and building on your success. That's what the second A-Kon did, with a guest list of pretty much everybody who was anybody in the nascent American anime industry, and a glimpse of both what was to come and what was about to collapse, in the form of this document. Which document? This document. 

Gainax, the studio we'd know for Evangelion, Kare Kano, and Gurren Lagann, was in 1991 already famous for Gunbuster, Wings Of Honneamise, and Nadia: Secret Of Blue Water. But as befits their origins as a circle of model-kit bashing, amateur tokusatsu filming, Daicon-video animating nerds, in '91 they still had one foot in the land of otaku. When Yasuhiro Takeda, Toshio Okada, Hideaki Anno, Takami Akai and Hiroyuki Yamaga staged the marathon 1981 Daicon opening animation production sequence which would later be immortalized in the Kazuhiko Shimamoto live-action drama Blue Blazes, the subsequent success would lead them to form the production house Daicon Film, and the success of their garage kit sales in the Daicon vendors hall would lead them to also form the General Products company to sell licensed kits and other anime-character merchandise. While Daicon Film would continue to produce ever-more ambitious filmmaking projects (changing their name to Gainax in 1985), General Products would help start Wonderfest and bring garage kits into the legitimate world by getting official licenses for their kits. In 1990 the two companies would merge, becoming simply Gainax.

GPress was General Products/Gainax's combination house organ/fan club newsletter, and as a result of a few prominent American fans spending quality time in Japan making cameos in Gainax productions, Gainax went all in on expanding their General Products brand to the American anime fan market. Hence, this English-language version of GPress. 

Recent anime fans might be surprised to learn how widespread the "Daicon 3 & 4" openings were, but even back in the early 90s we were ruining our eyes staring at freeze-frame images trying to figure out all the cameos. Owing to music licensing issues it likely will never get any sort of professional release in North America, but if you know where to look you can find a copy here and there. General Products organized a members club early on, and soon the "Known Space Club" changed its name to "General Products Club," keeping Japanese fans up to date on the latest anime-culture stuff to spend their bubble-economy allowances on. With General Products moving into the US market, bringing the buyers' club and its newsletter across the Pacific is an obvious move.

Joining the G.P.C. means a ten percent discount on everything you buy from G.P.C.! It's like the loyalty card you use at the grocery store, only for anime girl garage kits instead of bananas.

When they get that backlog of prior commitments cleared up they're going to have a bargain sale. This sort of happened, but not at Christmas. More on this later. 

Oh good, just what the anime fandom of 1991 needed, more rules! From what I understand, for $25 a year you get 4 issues of their newsletter and a ten percent discount. And a card to keep in your wallet to impress people with every time you whip it out and use it, which was once, or maybe twice.  

Here we get to the "News You Can Use" portion of our newsletter, the interview with Hideaki Anno, who in 1991 was super busy and in a super crisis. I hate to tell you this Anno, but it doesn't get any easier from here on out.

Sexy sculpting and superb facial expressions abound on the tables of Wonderfest 90 where legions of lonely Japanese men create their dream girlfriends out of resin and polystyrene. Is this issue of GPress the only time an anime merchandise newsletter hits on a model kit? Sadly, probably not.

Comic Market 38 drew 220,000 attendees to the Makuhari Messe in Chiba. Compare that to the 130,000 that Comic Con International did in 2017 and you can see that what the crowds really want are X-rated Nadia comics. Get with it, San Diego!

Some 1989 interviews with Gainax staff are quite revealing. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto met a Korean animator against his will, Haruhiko Mikimoto was in a car accident, and somehow Takami Akai made a computer strip tease game. 

This fascinating research of General Products Club members proves that the overwhelming majority of club members are (unsurprisingly) male, that they buy New Type magazine, and that they aren't happy with the General Products retail locations closing and the irregular publication of the GPress newsletter. You and me both, guys. 

Here sharp-eyed readers notice the various influences that shaped the production of Nadia: Secret Of Blue Water. Relax Gainax, give it a few years and Nadia will impress a whole new audience that is completely ignorant of Blue Noah or Latitude Zero.

The meat of this GPress newsletter is a rare English-language interview with Leiji Matsumoto. This had happened before - a 1988 interview in Animag might be the most widely known -  but at the time this sort of thing was still uncommon. The interview comes at an interesting time for the popularity of his works in the US - Star Blazers was long off the air, the Viz VHS releases of the Galaxy Express films were almost a decade away, and generally his work wasn't catching the eye of American fandom the way say, Dirty Pair or Iczer One or Bubblegum Crisis was, in spite of the best efforts of die-hard Harlock fan subtitlers and cosplayers. Note the end of the interview where he's asked about the upcoming AnimeCon convention. We'll come back to that later.

If you're interested in girls or robots or girls who pilot robots, well, General Products has you covered! 

Guys, it's the 1990s and that means the digital world of computers is taking over. General Products is giving the PC universe the same painstaking attention to detail that they give all their projects, which means most of these games are about cute girls in various stages of undress, drawing computer games fans throughout Japan into a whirlpool of excitement. 

Meanwhile in the anime world, the hot-blooded ridiculous high school battle manga Hono no Tenkosei aka Blazing Transfer Student is heading straight to laserdisc courtesy Gainax! Based on the manga by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, we were still years away from Shimamoto detailing his time in Osaka with Anno and the rest of the Daicon crew in his semi-autobiographical manga later turned live-action comedy Aoi Hono ("Blue Blazes"), but according to this GPress article Shimamoto was already mining his own Blazing Transfer Student creation experiences for a strip in Young Club. Blazing Transfer Student is a great, over-the-top high school manga parody, and sadly the anime didn't do well, so we never got a Part 3 or a legit North American release. I can confirm, however, that it will entertain crowds of anime fans in late-night video rooms.

Blazing Transfer Student manga
Blazing Transfer Student anime

And if you'd forgotten about Nadia, well, here is GPress to remind you about Nadia coming on home video and there's a behind the scenes video and a limited edition "Nautilus Story" video and a computer game. And a feature film that Gainax is in no way involved with, which is a good point for them to stress, because that movie is awful.

Here Gainax artist Takeshi Honda expresses his wonder and admiration for the heaving bosoms of Gainax's female characters. This kind of thinking goes a long way towards explaining why, as noted earlier, most General Products Club members are men.

And coming Labor Day weekend in San Jose, it's AnimeCon '91, the convention voted most likely to be named "the first American anime con" even though it was not. And no, there wasn't an AnimeCon '92. After the show the con staff immediately split into two factions, and I feel you, fellas, I know what the tensions around putting on a convention can be like.

Cosponsored by Gainax, AnimeCon was a Big Deal - with guests like Haruhiko Mikimoto and Leiji Matsumoto, how could it not be? And even though Matsumoto cancelled, the convention was a total success. Except for the General Products part, which was basically a going out of business sale. Turns out General Products was maybe a few years ahead of its time; the difficulties of delivering the desired product into the hands of the American fans - a market perhaps not as developed or as educated as the customer base General Products was used to supplying - proved insurmountable. By the summer of 1991, General Products USA was circling the drain. And that's a shame, because apart from the shameless Gainax product placement, a regularly published English-language newsletter of Japanese anime news direct from Japan would have been a game changer in the confused landscape of the early 1990s, when we didn't know our Macross IIs from our Giant Robos. 

There are indeed many benefits to a newsletter written by a crew of Japanese nerds eager to inculcate the rest of the world with Japanese nerd culture. One such benefit are instructional articles like this one, bringing Japanese TV presenter etiquette to an audience of American anime nerds who will probably take this to heart and start greeting everybody at their high school as if they were an Asian TV broadcaster. One only hopes Americans were in Tokyo teaching Japanese nerds all of Ed McMahon's mannerisms.

You need to pay careful attention to this page in the next issue because this is where the business-like information will be collected. If you don't read carefully maybe trouble will occur, and once a problem gets started, it's too late, so be careful! This is not exactly filling me with confidence in regards to doing business with General Products.

And now a charming Kiki's Delivery Service by Kimiko Akai, who not only draws comics, but is a character in Gunbuster!

Finally, a word from the editor, up late in Tokyo putting the finishing touches on this magazine, hoping that the General Products dream can come true in America the way it did in Japan. And I guess it kind of did, it just took a little longer than anyone thought it would, it involved technology we didn't yet know existed, and for better or for worse it wouldn't include General Products  selling garage kits of Blaster Mary.   

-Dave Merrill